Shods frontman Kevin Stevenson is back and louder than ever in The Unholy III
By Mike Flynn
Three sideshow performers leave the circus after a midget named Tweedledee beats up a kid at one of their shows.
The trio of misfits become “The Unholy Three.”
Echo, a ventriloquist assumes the role of Mrs. O’Grady, a kindly old grandmother who runs a bird shop. Tweedledee, “The Twenty Inch Man,” becomes her grandchild and Hercules, the strong man, is their assistant. Soon an incredible crime wave is launched from their little store.
So reads the plot of the 1925 film The Unholy Three, directed by Todd Browning. It’s the kind of twisted tale that weird dreams — and punk bands — are made from.
The film is the inspiration for the moniker attached to the latest offering from Mill City musical mainstay Kevin Stevenson, who’s roots in this city’s music scene go back to the glory days of long-gone clubs like The Downtown, where Stevenson played in the house band as a teenager.
This period is highlighted in the award-winning 2011 Emerging Artists’ Anthology of the City of Lowell, Young Angel Midnight, published by Bootstrap Productions. A music section curated by WFNX disc jockey (and Lowell’s own) D-Tension, starts off with the tale of how he and Kevin first met outside that club.
They were both too young to enter as patrons but as Dee tells the story, “They let Kevin in and not me. When I said what about him (Kevin)? He’s not old enough either…they told me, ‘He can play guitar, what can You do?’ “
He can play guitar, and anyone who knows Kevin doesn’t have too much trouble picturing him as a wide-eyed kid in the center of a cauldron of chaotic activity, like The Downtown in the 1980s, wailing away on that guitar for all he was worth.
This is the passion and intensity that has driven Kevin Stevenson on an odyssey through the music business that extends to this day.
Formicide, Only Living Witness, The Shods, the ill-fated Rivers Cuomo Band project and tours with the Mighty Mighty Boss-Tones have provided Kevin with opportunities to experience all the glory and heartbreak that a career in music has to offer. But it is the music itself that truly drives Kevin.
He doesn’t seem to play guitar so much because he can, but because he has to.
“I write songs all the time, I just hear ’em and I have to get them down,” was what Kevin said over a year ago when he played me four demos recorded at home on a four track.
“I’ve got hundreds of ’em!” he said while gesturing to spindles of CDRs stashed away haphazardly in his house in Tewksbury, along with a seemingly infinite collection of instruments, gear, reels of magnetic tape master recordings of previous projects, records and movies.
Two of those demos are on the new record.
Kevin is a pop culture addict, especially offbeat pop culture, evidenced by the appellation of the new band, The Unholy III.
“I love Harry Earles,” Kevin explains. “He’s a little person, and was in a movie called Freaks. I’ve always been fascinated by that movie and I did a little research and found out he was in another movie called The Unholy Three. That’s where I got the name.”
The film’s plot may also serve as a metaphorical mission statement for the band, which just finished recording their first album, “Right In The Eye.” The album is the culmination of a year’s work for The Unholy III.
Ten songs in all. Written, realized and rehearsed by The Unholy III in that same house in Tewksbury and recorded in one weekend at Q-Division Studios in Somerville with producer by Ed Valouskas.
Jay Briere plays bass and Daryl Grant, formerly of the band Waltham, plays drums. Former Shods bandmate Dave Aaronoff also lends his hands on keyboards for a couple of numbers.
Kevin’s songs are populated by a cast of characters who populate his life and that cast is reflected in the cover art, drawn by Stevenson — which brings you face to face, eye to eye as it were, with some of life’s most marginalized folks.
A trip downtown with Kevin, from Brew’d Awakenings on Market Street to RRRecords on Central, can last all afternoon as he will most likely stop to have a conversation with about half of the people who pass by.
It’s these stories, sometimes fictionalized, sometimes interwoven with his own experiences, that become the subjects of his songs and gives them an immediacy that is palpable.
An empathy for the day to day struggles of life’s most down and out is what gives them their authenticity.
“No matter what I’m singing about, I’m always singing about myself,” Kevin said. “I’ve felt the way the person in the song feels.”
Homelessness, heartbreak, anger and catharsis are all exhumed musically on a record that has a song inspired by a GG Allin quote (Tomorrow & Today) and one about a Hell’s Angel who was a doorman at The Downtown (He’s An Angel) — possibly the same doorman from Dee Tension’s Young Angel Midnight anecdote.
Kevin has had more than his share of epic struggles in his own life recently.
His divorce, the death of his older brother and earliest musical collaborator, Eric Stevenson, who lost a battle with cancer, as well Kevin’s own day to day battle with multiple sclerosis, all get filtered through the Holy Grail of pure rock ‘n’ roll music with the zeal of a band of desperate sideshow performers running away from, instead of with, the circus.
“I’m really excited for people to hear this stuff,” Kevin said. “I’ve been wanting to get a band together like this and do a record like this for a while.”
The record will most likely be mastered and released in mid-July and the band plays Friday, July 6, at Johnny D’s in Somerville along with Jen Kearney and The Lost Onion.
Learn more about the band on Facebook facebook.com/pages/The-Unholy-III